A late night 12 hour flight from New Zealand got us into China around 4:30am (Chinese time). We landed very tired as we could only muster a small amount of interrupted sleep due to a toddler 2 rows in front of us. It seemed the poor chap didn’t have a very good opinion of the inflight entertainment or maybe it was the food and he made his feelings very clear for the duration of the flight. It was fine though, we had another 6 hours from China to India to catch up with our sleep, we boarded the plane as normal and got to our seats, relaxed and ready to sleep, when we see the demon boy and his exhausted dad walking down the aisle… ah nuts.
Luckily the dad kept walking past us to the back of the plane so we managed to get some sleep and arrived in Delhi around 11am Delhi time. Still exhausted but excited to be in a new country! We were prepared to be hassled for a taxi and as soon as we stepped out of the airport 2 men approached us offering their service, they promptly started arguing with each other and we walked over to the licenced taxi rank!
Our first taste of the Indian roads was just as you expect…. Mental. It is hectic but somehow it works, beeping is used to let other road users know you are aggressively overtaking them, road lanes are obsolete as the drivers have realised you can actually get 6 cars side by side in a 4 lane road and if you want to merge into another “lane” then all drivers to the side you are merging will have to deal with it, and they do. There is no road rage, the traffic keeps moving and we only hit one pedestrian on our way to our hotel.
Our hotel was on the Main Bazaar, which was extremely bizarre! A hectic narrow road with lots of shops and stalls on either side, the road is shared by many pedestrians, rickshaws, cars and cows! Our hotel was down an alleyway which seemed to be heavily used for mens urination! Our hotel was lovely though, simple room but it had aircon and at 35 degrees and what felt like 200% humidity it was very welcome. No time to waste though, we were hungry and gagging for some Indian cuisine.
Jess had been her excellent proactive self and researched all possible food places throughout the whole of India so we had lots to aim for in Delhi! We decided we’d start our culinary experience with some street food in Old Delhi, a short 45 minute walk… after 10 minutes of jostling through the Main Bazaar and attempting to cross a busy road, with our clothes sodden from sweat, we decided that walking in Delhi was a bad idea. Luckily there are a million and two rickshaws asking for your custom. Before we could get in one a random Indian man was asking where we were going and offering to help us, again we said no thank you and got into a rickshaw. After we asked the driver to take us to Old Delhi the ‘helpful’ man told us that as it was Friday, the day of prayer, and that we’d need a ticket to get into Old Delhi and told the rickshaw driver to take us to the tourism office to get the ticket. This was our first experience of a sneaky, annoying Indian tout trying to get custom to their cousins tourist information shops… and it wasn't to be our last!
In the tourism shop we took the opportunity to get some more information about Delhi, we got a map and a very hard sell from the agent but it turned out we didn’t need a ticket to get into Old Delhi so we left. Our rickshaw driver had waited for us and we asked him to take us to Old Delhi…. 10 minutes later we were about the same distance from Old Delhi than when we began our first rickshaw trip, only to be told by the driver that it would take another hour to get into the center and he wasn’t willing to drive us in. We were by a metro line though so we got off, paid the guy his 40 rupees (50p) and decided to change our plans. Jess consulted her food map and found another place of interest a few stops down the metro line… this felt a much easier option!
Then we discovered the mayhem of the Delhi metro. People are filtered through metal detectors, bags are put through x-ray machines and ticket machines don’t work… but finally we got our tickets and got on the metro, we even got seats! We got to our destination and found the food stall, which was heaving with local people, has to be a good sign. We ordered some paratha, Indian breakfast bread, filled with veg and fried! It was delicious.
Time for some culture, the nearest thing was the Lotus Temple, a temple which is open to all religions. We walked over to the rickshaw rank, we caused some commotion as many drivers wanted our custom, time to enjoy some bartering! We got a specific driver down from 100 rupees to 60… who was quite annoyed but begrudgingly accepted and as he waved us over to his rickshaw he accidently knocked Jess’ bottle of water and it squirted all over her, which seemed to cheer him up a bit!
During the journey we realised that we’d been haggling for about 50p and that 50p would be a lot more valuable to him than us, even though he did give Jess a refreshing shower, so we paid him 80 rupees in the end.
The Lotus Temple was a cool building, in the shape of a lotus flower with some pools surrounding it. Not too much to see inside though. After a stroll around we took a seat on a bench viewing the building. An Indian lady in a beautiful colourful dress sat next to Jess, her husband was taking her picture so Jess politely shuffled closer to me as to not ruin the photo. This was met with confusion by the photographer and the lady, who promptly shuffled up next to Jess! Ah, they wanted a photo of the white people! We nervously and embarrassingly smiled into the camera unaware of what we had started. 10 minutes and 4 families later we’d had enough of feeling like Posh and Becks so we headed back towards home, stopping off at Connaught Place, a more up market part of Delhi.
To get to Connaught Place we had to go back via the tube, not realising it was rush hour we went through the security, got our tickets and waited for the train. We had just missed one but were first in line for the next one, standing right at the doors. As they opened, only a couple of people got off what was already a full carriage, that didn’t stop everyone behind us pushing to get on! Packed tighter than a can of sardines, even the locals were finding it amusing and crazy. Luckily our destination was only 2 stops away! Time for a drink at the Lord of the Drinks!
Lord of the Drinks is a bar… the menu says they serve litres or pints of Kingfisher, what a treat! Two pints please. The waiter returns with two 330ml bottles, after some discussion and confusion it turns out India bars don’t realise a pint is an actual measure…. Great.
Time for stop two of our Indian cuisine, a south Indian restaurant from Jess’ food map! And this was an actual treat, we had Dosas and Umpathem, with lots of delicious chutneys and potato stuff. And two masala teas to top off a very nice meal.
It’d been a very long day and we were shattered so we jumped into a rickshaw and went back to the hotel where we passed out immediately.
A combination of jet lag and body clock issues meant we were up very early. Our hotel provided breakfast, so at 8am we headed up to the roof terrace. A breakfast of a toasted jam sandwich, a banana, a weird little fruit muffin thing and a delicious fried indian snack was to be our sustenance for the morning… and what a morning it turned out to be.
We had one goal for the morning, book a train ticket to get us from Delhi to Shimla, which is in North India. After looking online we realised the best route was a train to Kalka, then change to another train or get a taxi the rest of the way to Shimla. After multiple failed attempts to book online, mainly issues with not having an indian telephone number, we went to the travel agency in our hotel. The man was very helpful and told us exactly what tickets we needed, and they matched to what we had researched so we felt confident. Unfortunately the train was fully booked so he couldn’t help, however in India they reserve some train tickets for foreign tourists but these can only be bought at a specific ticket office at the train station. He warned us that it will be a struggle getting to the train station and once you are there people will tell you everything is closed and try to make you go to their cousins shops etc etc. He said the ticket office is on the first floor and has a blue sign, this was vital information that proves it’s the correct ticket office. The man’s final bit of advice was to not get into any rickshaws as they’d definitely take us to the wrong place! Confident and ready to bat off any unwanted advice we headed to the train station…
Those pesky Indian touts, we’re not sure how it all happened but here’s the story… first we were told we needed a ticket to get into the train station, I argued that we were there to buy a ticket and the guy said we had to go to the Foriegn tourist ticket office which was down the road on the left, we had to go to the first floor and look for the blue sign… this convinced us he was probably telling the truth, especially as he didn’t seem to benefit from us going that way. We walked down the road and another rickshaw driver confirmed the first man’s story, keep walking down the road and we’ll see it on the left, a convincer! And the final part of the scam was a 3rd, seemingly random man, offering his help and showing us on google maps where it was (he even input ‘India Foreign Tourist Ticket Office’) and hailed us a rickshaw to take us there for 20 rupees (DO NOT GET IN RICKSHAWS AS THEY’LL TAKE YOU TO THE WRONG PLACE, facepalm).
So we clearly ended up at the wrong place, went inside and chatted to a tourist information guy who proceeded to attempt to plan our whole trip. He mentioned it was dangerous in North India (due to landslide and terrorists) and we shouldn’t go there and we should do all these things in Rajasthan which he can get good prices for… no thanks. We promptly left and our rickshaw was waiting, we explained we wanted to go back to the hotel and he seemed confused as he’d taken us to the place the man told him to go. He asked if we wanted to go to the Foreign Tourist Ticket office but we said no, back to the hotel, please. He agreed but decided to drive past the Foreign Tourist Ticket office to show us where it was, it was a building with a blue sign on the first floor! And the blue sign said ‘Foreign Tourist Train Ticket Office’. Surely this was the place, so we hopped off to go in for a chat. Inside seemed identical to all other tourist information shops we’d been in, which was a bit concerning but there were governmental plaques on the wall saying ‘Foreign Tourist Tickets’ and we did have to go to the first floor!
Anyway, long story short, we chatted to a guy for about 3 hours figuring out what we wanted to do. After spending all morning trying to buy a single train ticket this guy was offering to help book all our travel. He wasn’t as pushy as the other guys (although he did try to sell us an all inclusive hotel and transport trip for the next 3 weeks) but we stood firm and ended up getting all trains, taxis and buses organised for the first 3 weeks of our trip. We’re pretty sure we were ripped off but we had been worn down all morning and it was still very cheap for what we were actually buying! He seemed very happy once we had paid and offered us to have lunch with him and his colleagues, an indian veg spread appeared at the desk and we all dug in, it was delicious and it soothed our frazzled minds. In the deal he also offered us his driver for the afternoon and the following day, his driver was to drive us around the sights of Delhi, free of charge, so no more rickshaw battles for us!
The one huge benefit from going to this tourist shop was they sorted us an Indian phone SIM card for £10, which gives us 1.4GB data per day for 28 days! Which is a ridiculously good deal and so far it has been working a dream!
So that afternoon we headed to Humayun’s Tomb, the Lodhi Gardens and Sri Laxmi Narayan Mandir (Hindu Temple)! Our lovely driver, Sanju, was really informative and friendly.
The Sri Laxmi Narayan Mandir temple was an old, beautiful building but clearly not well maintained (which became a theme in the temples in Delhi). We were adorned with a red dot on our foreheads as we entered one shrine and walked around the rest of the temple looking at interesting religious art. Lots of glistening sculptures and paintings, unfortunately for you guys we weren’t allowed to take photos inside so this one is just for us!
We then headed to Humayun’s Tomb, as we drove it began to rain, and rain hard, but it was still really warm. The rain meant we rushed through the gardens and gates to get to the tomb itself, a grand building with 8 marble coffins containing members of a royal family (or similar to royalty, there wasn’t a lot of information!). Everyone else was walking around in the rain, taking selfies and photos like it was no big deal - I guess people liked a short relief from the humid weather!
The rain then relented as we arrived at the Lodhi Gardens, a lot of grass, trees, flooded areas, birds, some buildings and chipmunks! We had a short stroll taking in the sights but it got too hot and humid again so back to the airconned car and time for Sanju to drive us back to the Main Bazaar!
It was a Saturday night and the first time we’d walked down the Main Bazaar in the evening. It was just as crazy but there were more food stalls and what seemed liked more cows. We wandered down the road, lots of people eating, trading, praying, dancing, driving and shouting! We found a vegetarian food stall which cooked fresh mushroom kebebs, paneer kebabs and onions rolls, we saw them cook it over some coals so thought it would be a safe option. It was accompanied by some onions and sauces and was absolutely delicious and only £2. We then headed back to the hotel for a Kingfisher and a sleep!
Woke feeling relieved that today was already organised for us and we didn’t have to think about anything. Had our odd little breakfast on the roof terrace, this time it included a coleslaw toastie which a new experience for us. We packed our stuff and met Sanju, our driver, who took us to Old Delhi (finally we visit this part of town, having been hoping to get here for the last two days!) and hooked us up with a bicycle rickshaw (just when we thought our rickshaw days were over!) to take us through the narrow, winding streets of Old Delhi.
After cycling on the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic for a while, we turned down a side street and were met with the sights and smells of Old Delhi, including the mass of electricity wires that dangled precariously overhead (pointed out proudly by our guide) and make-shift barber shops (people having their beards trimmed at the side of the road), and many vendors going about their daily work, including one that we clipped quite hard on the head with the side of the rickshaw! Our guide looked like he was going to get slapped with a piece of wood in return, but managed to sweet talk his way out of it and cycled off with a wink at us. He explained the market was closed because it was Sunday (this we think was probably true, as many of the shutters were down today), so he took us to a shop of spices, but this was just a pretty normal looking shop with bags of spices displayed, and whilst the aircon was very welcome we didn’t actually want to buy anything, so we continued to the Jama Masjid Mosque.
This Mosque is the biggest in India, and can hold 25,000 people in its courtyard for prayers. We removed our shoes, and whilst I (Jess) had dressed fairly modestly for the day, I was asked to put on a very glamorous (and well used) bright yellow robe that went down to the floor and tied high at the neck. We walked around the impressive space and beautiful domed buildings, it seemed to be a place people came to hang out and chat as much as to pray, but at 35 degrees in the shade we weren’t gonna hang out for long and retreated to the find our rickshaw and enjoy a breezy ride to the Red Fort.
This is another major site to see to Delhi - a massive red (obvs) fortress designed by Mr Taj Mahal about 400 years ago, with huge lawns and various buildings that now house museums and art galleries relating to Indian history. We learned an awful lot about the Indian independence movement against the British, mainly about how awful the Brits were, and also admired some nice Indian art, including Braille art which we tried to identify with closed eyes (impossible). We were yet again treated as celebrities and asked for photos to which we agreed, although why they want a couple of very sweaty tourists in their photos (or even standing near them!) is still something we don’t understand.
After the Red Fort Sanju took us to the Gandhi memorial place where his ashes are buried under a massive marble stone with an eternal flame burning above it. We ate at an Indian canteen not far from here recommended by Sanju, where we had veggie thali (lots of small dishes and bread to scoop it all up), and then got back in the car to continue our journey. I said to Sanju that we didn’t actually know very much about Gandhi, and could he explain a little? Sanju said ‘Gandhi is a stupid person’ and proceeded to tell us that 90% of Indian’s loathed him and still loathe his family, that his family are the cause of all the problems on India, and that the rest of the world has a completely warped view of Gandhi as a ‘peacemaker’ because he caused far more trouble than peace. So that’s Gandhi!
Next we visited a Sikh temple (Gurdwara), which was a beautiful white stone structure with a huge pool that we’d heard had special sacred water. It was very busy and we worked out where to take off our shoes before heading into the temple, I slipped my flipflops into my bag whilst Chris handed over his trainers to be put into a locker, and we both tied a piece of cloth on our heads like everyone else with an uncovered head was doing - so far, so respectful. We joined a queue of people filtering into the temple but just as we got to the door a Sikh elder, who was stood at the side, shouted at me and beckoned us to the side, kicked us out the queue and sent us off with no explanation! I was slightly mortified and very confused, another Sikh gentleman led us wordlessly around the corner and down the steps (we thought we were in real trouble now), and took us into a room with a sign that said ‘Foreign tourists’. There we were met with nice aircon and a very friendly man who explained that the man at the temple believed I had my shoes in my bag (how did he know?!) so I confessed that I did and put them in a locker, and then we were given an explanation on how to go about entering the temple (hands folded in front, no shoes in bags!), and told about the history of Sikhism and the main principles of the religion - I will spare you the details but it was fascinating and we’re really into Sikhism now - one thing we particularly liked is that a main principle is to be logical and rational - for example we were told that no, the water in the huge pool is not special or sacred, it cannot absolve sins as some people think, it’s just a nice way to freshen up before settling in for some serious prayer time!
So we entered the temple with no issues and then the nice man took us on a tour of the massive communal kitchen which churns out a decent meal for thousands of people daily - its completely free of charge, people of all backgrounds are welcome and everyone sits together on the floor, and the kitchen is run by volunteers because a main principle in the religion is helping others (see, told you it was good!). We didn’t stay to eat or help though, as we had a night bus to get to and serious snackage to stock up on before, so we drove back to the hostel to pick up our bags and Sanju saw us off onto the night bus (ensuring we were getting on the right one!).